The largest volcanic centers of the Gregory rift occur in two belts located 100 to 150 km east and west of the axis of the rift valley. These off-axis volcanic belts include the highest peaks on the continent of Africa and are interpreted to lie above the intersection of low-angle detachment systems with the base of a regionally thinned lithosphere. These detachment systems are manifested at the surface as a series of breakaway zones and regional bounding faults that produce subbasins with half-graben form. The asymmetry of subbasins alternates along the rift axis, indicating that the polarity of the underlying active detachment systems also reverses. The detachments are separated laterally by regional oblique-slip accommodation zones typified by wrench-style tectonism. Off-axis from the rift, the detachments are inferred to merge along strike as they cut to the base of the lithosphere. This results in irregular but persistent paired zones of volcanism and lithospheric thinning off-axis from the rift proper. The development of major volcanic cones such as Mount Kilimanjaro may be controlled by the interaction of leaky accommodation zones with the regions of structurally thinned lithosphere. The central Kenya hot spot has produced the anomalous quantities of volcanic material that fills the Gregory rift and probably enhances the off-axis volcanism but does not directly control its location. The model proposed here for tectonic controls of volcanism in the Gregory rift may be applicable to Phanerozoic continental rifts in general.